Is there a comma before but?
The correct answers are yes there is and no there isn’t.
You need to decide whether to insert a comma or not with but.
But it is very easy to make the correct decision. It will depend on the structure of your complete sentences.
Luckily, the comma rule to help you decide is super easy to learn, use and remember.
There are two basic rules to follow for the use of a comma before but.
1. You put a comma before but when the two halves of your sentence can stand alone.
2. You omit the comma when the two sentence halves can’t stand alone.
But what about a comma after but?
If you start a sentence with but, you usually don’t need to use a comma.
But yes, you can use a comma after but. However, you won’t use it very much.
Before you read on to the examples of where to put the comma with but, you might want to refresh your memory about starting a sentence with but.
When to use a comma before but
All you need to do to make sure you are correct is to check if your sentence is connecting two independent clauses.
In this case, both clauses will have a subject and a verb.
If each part of your sentence is independent they can stand alone as whole sentences. Then but, which is your coordinating conjunction, needs a comma to separate your two clauses.
Here are some examples for you.
I wanted to go out for breakfast but my local cafe was closed. Incorrect
I wanted to go out for breakfast, but my local cafe was closed. Correct
This is because each part of the sentence can stand alone as individual complete sentences.
I wanted to go out for breakfast. Complete My local cafe was closed. Complete
He left home early, but he forgot to take an umbrella. Correct
My sister is leaving for Canada tomorrow, but she will be back in three weeks. Correct
Susan doesn’t like sardines, but her sister loves all kinds of fish. Correct
We really wanted to go to Spain for our holiday, but the hotels are too expensive in summer. Correct
I can’t swim, but I love going to the beach. Correct
I meant to buy some bread, but I forgot to stop off at the bakery. Correct
When to leave out the comma before but
When the second part of a sentence is a dependent clause, there is no comma before but.
It happens when you cannot make a logical sentence from the second clause. This is because it is dependent on the first clause for its meaning.
Usually, this is because there is no subject or verb in the second clause.
Look at these examples.
The restaurant was fantastic, but very expensive. Incorrect
The restaurant was fantastic but very expensive. Correct
It is because the second word or phrase is not a complete sentence.
The restaurant was fantastic. Complete Very expensive. Incomplete
Studying grammar is hard sometimes but interesting all the same. Correct
My father is quite strict but warm-hearted. Correct
I went to the concert but left early with a headache. Correct
The rest of the sentence was easy to write but with no comma. Correct
He played as well as he could but lost the match. Correct
Going to the gym is tough some mornings but good fun all the same. Correct
More reading: What is the Oxford Comma?
Can you use a comma after but?
Yes, you can, but you won’t have to use it very often.
But only needs a comma after it when there is an adverbial clause or an extra clause inserted after it. Think of it as an interruption to a sentence.
But, of course, I’d love to go to the beach with you.
But, yes indeed, there is plenty of space in the car for you.
I was going to buy tickets for the new show, but, in fact, my husband had already bought them for me.
But, if you really want to know the truth, I can’t stand my boss.
It’s not easy, but, well, you know how it is.
The good news about your commas
Does the comma go before or after but? Now you know the answer.
You have mastered the comma rule with but. I told you it was super easy.
Now I have some even better news for you.
You can use the exact same three-part rule for a sentence with commas for and, or and so as well.
1. Use a comma before the conjunction when the two sentence halves can stand alone.
2. Don’t use a comma before the conjunction when the second clause can’t stand alone.
3. Use a comma after the conjunction when it is followed by an interruption.
Examples of the comma before and, so and or
He went to London for two weeks, and he stayed at an expensive hotel.
Susan’s loves her cat, and she lets it sleep in her bed.
There was no chance of changing our flight, so we had to stay for two more days.
Tim missed his train, so he was two hours late for the meeting.
You can try for a free upgrade, or you can pay extra to be sure you get it.
Don’t pack too much, or you will be charged for excess baggage.
Examples of the comma after and, so and or
He went to London for two weeks, and, just like him, he stayed at an expensive hotel.
Susan’s loves her cat, and, naturally, she lets it sleep in her bed.
There was no chance of changing our flight, so, unfortunately, we had to stay for two more days.
It is very easy to learn the comma punctuation rules for coordinating conjunctions.
All you need to do is take a few minutes to make sure you understand the basic rules and then lock them away in your memory.
You can also use a grammar checker to help you.
Here is a screenshot of some of my article text in Prowritingaid. You can see that my error is clearly marked with an explanation of the problem.
You can always do a similar check if you are a Grammarly user.
And yes, I just did a full check and I got all green lights for my comma usage.
Yes, there are a few complicated comma rules. The ones for cumulative and coordinate adjectives can be a bit tricky.
I am always reminded of this quote when I think about using commas.
“I spent all morning putting in a comma and all afternoon taking it out.” – Oscar Wilde
It is true that comma usage is complex and often open to interpretation.
But, luckily, it is easy with and, but, and so. So you can leave all the other comma rules for another day.
More reading: Use The Em Dash And Cheat At Your Punctuation